Has everyone read Eudora Welty’s famous short story, No Place for you, my love? Something made me take it out this afternoon for a reread. I love Welty’s sly, subtle humor and bizarre, sometimes even fantastic detail. I also love the way she shifts back and forth between the unnamed man and woman in the story as they take their drive south from New Orleans; she leaves so much for the reader to puzzle over while at the same time creates an unmistakable emotional canvas of each character.
Right in the beginning, the man is watching the woman (they’re at an improvised lunch party, both out-of-town guests in New Orleans) and he assumes he has discovered something about her inner-life:
The shadow lay between her fingers, between her little square hand and her cheek, like something always best carried about the person. Then suddenly, as she took her hand down; the secret fact was still there – it lighted her.
Just after this moment, they speak for the first time and discover an instant kinship in their both being strangers and in what I can only describe as a kind of exasperated ennui. They aren’t attracted to one another. But they move quickly and smoothly toward an afternoon with all the outward trappings of adventure and the possibility of an affair.
The drive south is hauntingly beautiful:
More and more crayfish and other shell creatures littered their path, scuttling or dragging. These little samples, little jokes of creation, persisted and sometimes perished, the more of them the deeper down the road went. Terrapins and turtles came up steadily over the horizons of the ditches. Back there in the margins were worse – crawling hides you could not penetrate with bullets or quite believe, grins that had come down from the primeval mud.
I love the desperation in this image. The man and woman are speeding south, not speaking, just holding themselves limply upright in the dazzling heat and all around them these “little jokes of creation” are committing inadvertant suicide left and right under their wheels.
What’s even better, faced with this incredible display, the man is falling asleep at the wheel. The woman has to jar his arm to keep him driving straight on the road.
They get on a ferry and the man and woman don’t even make the crossing together. He stays down with the car, and she steps up to the deck to have this thought:
She held the hot rail before her. It was like riding a stove. Her shoulders dropping, her hair flying, her skirt buffeted by the sudden strong wind, she stood there, thinking they all must see that with her entire self all she did was wait.
I will try not to give everything away. But just next is a scene with an alligator some of the ferry help has captured. Welty juxtaposes the man’s and woman’s thoughts about this creature so delicately, so subtly, it becomes an occasion for mutual misunderstanding. And then she delivers this line – which I leave without context to force you all to find a copy of the story and read it for yourselves:
Deliver us all from the naked in heart.
They make it to their destination, have some food, dance together. All without really speaking or engaging directly with one another. And behind their few words and gestures is this feeling that both of them are reacting to the complications in the lives they’ve left behind for this short escapade. Lurking over the entire story is a kind of violence or danger.
In a very limited sense, their adventure is confirmed. Their affair realized. And then they drive back. Welty’s image of this drive is so bizarre and beautiful:
Later, crossing a large open distance, he saw at the same time two fires. He had the feeling that they had been riding for a long time across a face – great, wide and upturned. In its eyes and open mouth were those fires they had had glimpses of, where the cattle had drawn together: a face, a head, far down here in the South – south of South, below it. A whole giant body sprawled downward then, on and on, always, constant as a constellation or an angel. Flaming and perhaps falling, he thought.
Isn’t that stunning? I love the image of this dark, hollow face, burning from within. A mirror of the nameless man and woman of the story. Both similarly empty but dark, their emotions smoldering, their fiery insides only visible in their tense gestures and careful words.